When the original “Kingsman” film hit theaters in 2014, it was an unexpected hit that served up a thoroughly entertaining satire of classic Bond ridiculousness. While often indulgent and rife with confusing political opinions, it was nevertheless a great example of having unabashedly dumb fun at the movies. Unfortunately, the film’s sequel, “The Golden Circle,” cashes in on all of that negative aspects of its predecessor, resulting in a smug, overlong mess of a film that does little to justify its own existence.
Set a year after the previous film, “The Golden Circle” follows dashing but scrappy super spy Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton, “Legend”) as he and tech specialist Merlin (Mark Strong, “Sherlock Holmes”) struggle to take down wacky drug queen Poppy (Julianne Moore, “The Big Lebowski”) after her cartel wipes the rest of the Kingsman operation off the map. Desperate for help, they turn to their organization’s “American cousins,” the Statesmen, a similar outfit composed of booze loving, tobacco spitting cowboys led by agents Champagne (Jeff Bridges, “The Big Lebowski”), Tequila (Channing Tatum, “21 Jump Street”), Whiskey (Pedro Pascal, “Game of Thrones”) and Ginger Ale (Halle Berry, “X-Men”). They are also joined by Eggsy’s sophisticated, thought to be dead mentor Harry (Colin Firth, “The King’s Speech”), a character whose death in the first film is neatly retconned here for really no reason at all.
The film’s plot is a loaded jumble of ideas, with Moore’s Poppy infecting all with the world’s recreational drugs with a deadly virus in an effort to convince world leaders to legalize them, offering a cure if they meet her demands. Therefore, her business can become famous as well as profitable. Such a plot inherently carries a lot of baggage about the politics of drugs, and the movie has absolutely no idea what its opinions on the issue are. It veers wildly from supporting drug users as simply normal people looking for a little fun, to painting them as maniacs deserving of the fate Poppy has prescribed to them. On the side of letting all the infected perish is the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood, “Star Trek”), a secondary villain and obvious Trump pastiche who also fails to offer any biting criticism of value.
This middling and muddled political merry-go-round exposes the film for what it really is: cheap. Everything feels easy, from the middle-school level jokes to the CGI-ridden action sequences. While the original had a more focused and fun feel, “The Golden Circle” is so enamored with itself and the franchise’s success that it feels it can do whatever it wants. What results is an extremely overstuffed movie (clocking in at over two and a half hours long) with no concept of pacing, throwing in as many inane jokes and smarmy acts of cartoon violence as it possibly can. Despite some solid performances from Egerton, Pascal and Moore and the amusing addition of the Statesmen (though only Pascal has a major role, the rest are glorified cameos), the movie can’t escape feeling like a purposefully offensive and frankly childish affair that gets off on that fact that it exists. It’s a Comedy Central action flick with none of the laughs, none of the thrills and none of the brains.